How to treat a hot water burn

Burns specialist Joanne Atkins explains how to treat a child if they get burnt

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  • Cold water

    If your child has been burnt, put the burnt area under cold running water as quickly as possible.

    Joanne Atkins, burns specialist and British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS) member, explains, “Do not delay. The minute the hot substance hits the skin, the burn is created and the damage being done.”

    Keep under the water for 10 minutes without taking out. The cool running water offers immediate pain relief and helps to limit damage. Do not use ice – this can cause a further burn.

  • Remove clothes

    If hot water hits your child on a clothed part of their body, remove it before you put it under the water if the garment is easy to remove. If this is going to take a long time, get the burnt area under the water and remove the clothes while the water is running. Joanne says, “Clothing retains the heat and damages the skin underneath.”

  • Make an assessment

    Inspect the injured area and make some sort of analysis as to the severity. As Joanne notes, “Here, common sense plays its part. If you can sensibly put a dressing or a plaster on, do. If the burn is pink and moist looking, it’s likely to be a fairly superficial injury. If it’s dry and dull with a white/grey or dark pink/purple appearance, seek medical advice as soon as you reasonably can, as this can signify a deeper burn.

    "Putting cling film gently on the burn is a good idea if you want to keep it covered on the way or overnight, as it won’t stick and may not even need to be removed for analysis."

    Burns are assessed by depth into tissue and the size in relation to body surface area. A child’s palm is equivalent to 1% of the body surface area. If a burn is bigger than this, it needs to be seen. If it’s very late at night, Joanne says, “If your child is comfortable and you can cover with a domestic dressing overnight, it’s ok to wait until the morning.” It’s important a burn is covered to limit infection or accidental knocks on the painful area.

  • Who should you speak to?

    If you’re not sure the burn warrants a trip to A&E, check with your GP or local pharmacist who will be able to advise.

    Keep an eye out for an upcoming NHS service, which will enable you to send a picture of the burn to an adviser and be guided over the phone. But, as Joanne says, “If in doubt, seek help.”

    See also, avoid these burn treatment myths


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